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Clare Whitfield is the author of People of Abandoned Character, which was released in ebook and hardback on 1st October. She took the time to answer some questions for us.
Can you tell us a bit about People of Abandoned Character?
It’s set in London in 1888. The main character, Susannah, enters into a rushed marriage with a young surgeon at the hospital where she works in Whitechapel, East London. As soon as they are married, his interest in her begins to wave, and then his behaviour becomes more volatile. At around the same time, the murders by Jack the Ripper start, and she begins to suspect she may have married a monster. It’s really about the precarious existence of the times, how easy it was to fall through the cracks and what morals Susannah has to compromise in order to escape a toxic marriage. I hope that answers it!
What was the first spark of an idea that led to this novel, and where did it come from?
I was in a creative writing workshop, must have been 2012, at Barton Peveril College in Eastleigh, Southampton. It was an adult education class and there were about five of us. We had to do a writing exercise in response to a newspaper piece about the first Ripper murder. The only catch was you couldn’t write from the perspective of the police or a victim – so I had the idea that he may have been married, and I wondered if his wife knew, and what kind of life she led and what she thought she should do about the whole thing – if anything.
What’s it like to write fiction that involves real historical figures – did you feel like you had total freedom or did it restrain you?
Both if I’m honest. A historical figure gives you limits you have to work around, but it also gives you a puzzle – you have to work around the basic facts, events that took place and people that were involved and who and what they were. It’s irritating at times, but a lot of fun too because you get to imagine things around the facts and events but there’s a skeletal framework you have to work to.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re writing next?
My second book is based in the 90s, just before mobile phones really permeated our existence. It’s about a girl who doesn’t know who her father is and her family refuse to tell her, or even discuss it. She’s sixteen and getting angrier about the refusal to engage. Unexpectedly she has to go and spend the summer with her aunt and uncle who live on an island off the Shetlands. She goes from hectic and crowded South London to rural isolation on a remote island in the North Sea.
What she doesn’t know until she gets there is that her uncle was a suspect in the disappearance of a young girl, some twenty years ago, who was last seen at the house where they still live. It’s about the secrets and lies families are determined to keep, and how the space where honesty should be can cause even more problems.
What’s a typical writing day like for you (if there is such a thing)?
I work full time, at the moment I’m WFH, so I work from 8:30 until 5 and then I try and log back on by 6pm and work until 10pm. I’m finishing the second novel –it’s a bit of a grind, but after this I’m going to spoil myself with a reading binge.
What are some books you’ve read and loved recently?
As I’ve been writing my second novel, I haven’t been reading much. But I loved Traitors by Josh Ireland and I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I’ve got a whole pile of fiction I’m waiting to get through too. First one on my list is The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville.
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